Saturday, February 28, 2009

Right By Disneyland, Hooray for "Hollywood"

After a week in which some folks out West took the news that a certain Eastward see remains the nation's most prominent a bit too personally, the stage belongs exclusively to American Catholicism's largest local church this weekend as the archdiocese of Los Angeles hosts another edition of its celebrated showcase: the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, one of the largest and most significant yearly gatherings of the Stateside fold... and, quite possibly, the most star-packed.

It is LA, after all.

Held in a convention center a stone's throw from Disneyland, the first days of every Lent see upwards of 40,000 catechists, clerics and all other sort of churchfolk converge for four days of liturgies and seminars on topics ranging from the social magisterium of B16 and HIV/AIDS to women in the church, the "cosmic Christ" and a "spirituality of sports." The atmosphere, in a nutshell, is more liturgical dancing than lingua antica -- reflecting the "big tent" dynamism that's made the Western church the nation's polestar of ecclesial vitality, the breakout sessions are offered in a mix of English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean.

While the vice-president (read: chief-in-waiting) of the US bishops, Tucson's Gerald Kicanas, is this year's marquee facilitator, helming sessions on adult faith formation and collaboration in ministry, presiding over it all as always is the nation's top churchman by seniority: LA's Cardinal Roger Mahony, who took up his traditional chats with local schoolkids and the general public yesterday morning, holding forth on matters from his two cats to Revelation to unemployment benefits to the continued use of the Tridentine Mass -- a concession "meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the [Second Vatican] Council," he said of the latter.

Adding his mind that "there is no participation by the people" in the forma extraordinaria of the Roman rite, Mahony said he "do[es]n't believe that instills the spirit of Christ among us."

Keynoted by the progressive Evangelical Jim Wallis, the Congress ends tomorrow afternoon with the traditional Sunday mega-Eucharist in the Anaheim center's arena. Invariably picketed by churchfolk of a more conservative stripe, this year's gathering has been christened an "Obama victory party" by the ever-present critics of the 73 year-old cardinal, who Pope John Paul II famously nicknamed "Hollywood."

The LA Congress might often be touted as the Stateside church's largest annual meetup, but its turnout has been eclipsed by two lower-profile celebrations that've grown bigger with each passing year: August's Marian Days in Missouri, which now draws 70,000-plus Vietnamese-American Catholics, and the blockbuster celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe at suburban Chicago's Maryville shrine, where last 12 December's throng approached some 150,000.

Figures and fireworks aside, just further proof that it's a big church... whose biggest and best stuff mostly lies not at its charged edges, but quietly in the middle.

PHOTO: Archdiocese of Los Angeles